After over 2,000 years the Acropolis is still the pride of Athens and a tourist magnet. Although I’ve visited half a dozen times, it never fails to cast its magic spell over me. Each visit is a different experience. The day I make my seventh pilgrimage it’s blowing an icy gale – the first cold snap of autumn – and clouds race across the sky, making the mighty Parthenon temple radiate a gloomy majesty.
The Parthenon was dedicated by the ancient Athenians to the goddess Athena Parthenos, the patron of their city.
The site of the Acropolis (Acropoli in Greek) has never been so easy to access. The Metro system, completed in time for the Athens Olympics in 2004, provides Athenians and visitors with a phenomenally efficient and rapid underground rail system to many parts of the city. The Acropolis Metro station is conveniently just a few metres from the Acropolis Museum and the entrance to the south side of the Acropolis.
Even the station itself is a marvel, with ancient remains of Athens and reproductions of the treasures of the Parthenon on display.
Entrance to the Acropolis is 12 euros per adult. From the south side I walk up past the Herod Atticus theatre where an orchestra is rehearsing for an evening performance. The tinkling of a piano mingles with the scented pine trees whistling in the wind.
Countless millions of people have trod this way over the centuries making the marble and stone steps slippery smooth. Sturdy footwear is a must. I pause just before the gate to the Parthenon, and sit on a step, in a sheltered spot, where there’s no city noise at all. Just the faint notes of the piano, still, and a gentle rustling of pine branches. And then I climb up the stairs to the Parthenon, where the music is replaced by the chattering of tourists in a dozen languages.
The Parthenon is undergoing constant restoration, with large cranes parked in the interior and on the south side. As I’ve said before, it’s a bit like a beautiful woman with her hair in curlers, and always preparing herself for her many admirers.
The site appears to be full of machinery and newly carved slabs of marble. The Parthenon has been pillaged and damaged over many centuries, and her facelift is a painstaking process. Views of Athens from the top are spectacular. To the north is the cone-shaped mountain of Lycabettos.
Look over another side and there’s Hadrian’s Arch, and the remains of the temple of Olympian Zeus, as clear as a bell today.
A large Greek flag flaps madly in the wind, almost drowning out the voices.
On all sides, Athens stretches out in all its unplanned, chaotic beauty. The light slides and shifts from flashes of sunlight to myriad purples, greys and soft blues, hiding and then revealing the cubist details of the urban landscape.
I stay for as long as I can, but eventually I’m chilled to the bone and reluctantly make my way down to the streets below, lined with neoclassical buildings. Most are impeccably maintained, but there’s one rotting away behind a tall fence and barbed wire – the decaying beauty still visible.
Not a tourist in sight in this quarter. The Ilias Lalaounis Jewellery Museum on Kalisperri Street is closed. Tavernas and coffee shops are empty. It’s the drowsy early evening hour before Athenians dress up to go out. Just a gypsy making her way to the street leading to the Acropolis where her children are playing accordians for the loose change from tourists.
I wrap my cold hands around a hot coffee and buy some nuts on the way back to the Metro, humming to the sounds of jaunty accordian songs.